Coronavirus Food Crisis: Could YOU Go Hungry?
Americans going hungry? “Impossible,” you say…
No one need hunger or starve in the bread basket of the world, right?
Well, we may soon find out if that’s a reliable truth — or just a long-held illusion borne of national pride. Because the coronavirus crisis is stretching our vulnerable domestic agriculture and food industries in ways they’ve never been forced to endure before…
And that could cause massive disruptions to supply chains of the “basic nutritional” variety we all take for granted under the Stars and Stripes.
Forget about the toilet paper — where’s all the food going to come from?
“There’s plenty of food in America,” the talking heads tell us, like the Secretary of Agriculture said this past Wednesday.
While that may be technically true (at least for now), it may not stay that way for the duration of the coronavirus crisis — particularly not for many high-demand and highly perishable consumables. And especially for folks who are cash-strapped because of pandemic-related income losses.
This is an actual photograph of people waiting in their cars at a Texas food bank a few days ago (stylized by the author)
Already, we’re seeing crazy lines at food banks, pantries, churches, and state-run aid distribution centers across our country.
At many of these, demand has doubled in the last few weeks. But for some, it’s skyrocketed 800% or more. Still others have been forced to close because of inability to meet demand.
In Las Vegas, for instance, one major food aid organization has reportedly shut down over 94% of its locations — 170 of them, altogether. And according to sources in hard-hit Pennsylvania, the current demand for food assistance even eclipses what was seen after the historically destructive Hurricane Sandy in 2012…
And we’re not even around the first turn of this race yet, so to speak.
How can all this possibly be happening in the Land of Plenty, you’re wondering? It’s happening because simply having enough food is only half the battle.
In this time of extreme need, thousands of tons of perfectly good food is being DESTROYED
Having sufficient food production capacity to meet existing needs means nothing if you can’t get all that food into the hands of those who need it.
And there are many potential roadblocks and bottlenecks in this process, especially when not all of America’s food comes from America.
Most people don’t realize it, but 15% of the U.S. food supply is imported. That may not seem like a lot until you factor in that this includes 32% of our fresh vegetables, 55% of our fresh fruits, and 94% of our seafood.
Needless to say, the complex process of keeping these critical foreign food supply chains safely up and running is under enormous strain during these unprecedented conditions. There really is no template for doing this in a highly contagious global pandemic — where all nations could soon be facing a food crunch. Washington is muddling through as best it can, just like every other government on the planet.
Beyond this, the process of quickly tailoring domestic food and meat production infrastructure and downstream supply logistics to meet today’s radically changed marketplace is proving to be quite a challenge.
A month ago, top-tier execs from major food companies (like Tyson) were assuring us that food supplies are sufficient to meet the need — and that their industries were quickly shifting gears to convert from restaurant and institutional supply production to grocery supply production to service changing consumer demand…
The problem is that many farmers aren’t faring so well in this massive and sudden national redirection of vital food resources. Because of the challenges of adapting to the new stay-at-home pandemic demand and consumption model, some of them are being forced to discard oceans of milk, millions of eggs, and thousands of tons of produce that used to go to restaurants, schools, hotels, and other big institutions.
Re-tooling and re-packaging costs, insufficient cold storage capacity, trucking and transportation logistics, different regulations — these and other factors are why many of America’s farmers are once again taking it on the chin (they always do, it seems) because of an unseen Black Swan event.
The net result is that approximately 5% of America’s milk supply is being dumped out onto the ground right now — and that figure could double over the next few months. Some chicken farms are being forced to destroy up to 750,000 eggs a week, too. And major producers of beans, onions, cabbage, and other Ag-commodities are plowing their ripening crops right back under, even as you read these words.
But these harsh market realities and the shameful waste they create are only part of the Coronavirus food crunch that’s sweeping the fruited plain…
Coronavirus is gutting the American meat processing industry
In the last week or so, we’ve seen a rash of closures in meat processing plants and similar facilities because of coronavirus outbreaks. This has created a bottleneck that’s putting pressure on critical supplies of fresh meat in many areas.
Because of this chokepoint in our ability to properly process meat products, U.S. hog-slaughter is down nearly 16%, cattle slaughter is down nearly 11%, and chicken slaughtering is off by close to 6% in recent weeks.
One particularly large and critical meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota run by Smithfield Foods (a Chinese-owned company, by the way) processes 4% – 5% of the pork products consumed by Americans. On April 12, it was shut down due to rampant coronavirus infections among its workers and staff.
At latest count, over 600 plant employees and their family members had tested positive for the virus. This represents the largest single source of new cases in the United States right now. It’s so bad there that the CDC has dispatched a special response team to help control the spread of the illness in that area.
A major poultry operation in Delaware is also being forced to “depopulate” (read: needlessly kill) as many as two million chickens from their flocks because coronavirus infections has cut the workforce in half. None of this meat will make it to the marketplace.
In addition to Smithfield, major meat producers Tyson, Cargill, and others have also shuttered some of their sites in response to the coronavirus crisis. That’s why some grocery chains report receiving only 75% of their normal meat deliveries, despite a 30% uptick in demand. It’s also why Smithfield’s CEO describes the current situation as being “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”
The bottom line is that the domestic food supply chain is incredibly complex, and it’s in uncharted waters right now. So we should NOT take it for granted that we’ll always have ample supplies of all the foodstuffs we need as this crisis plays out.
This food crunch is already underway in America — there’s evidence all around you, if you look for it. And it could get a lot worse, especially in the fresh meat, fruit and vegetable aisles of your grocery store. In food lines, too.
But take heart, because there are things you can do to help dodge the effects of this crunch if and when it gets bad…
And these solutions can be great for your mental health and well-being as well.
Discover (or rediscover) the outdoor living arts of fishing, hunting, and home-grown food
I seem to remember seeing some survey results of the things people are doing — or want to do — during this coronavirus shutdown. If I’m not mistaken, the #1 item on most respondents’ list was learn a new skill…
And what better skills to learn than ones that could feed you and your family?
Fishing and home gardening have enjoyed increasing participation rates in recent years, so if you’ve been tempted to give them a try — or come back to them after a hiatus — there’s no better time than right now.
I was raised in a household that grew much of its own food, and I promise: If you’ve got a hose, a small patch of ground with some sun exposure, and a few extra dollars to buy seed and other supplies, you can grow a lot of your own grub, too.
And if the state in which you live is still allowing fishing under social distancing rules (many of them are, by my research), all it takes is some basic gear and a little practice to start bringing home your own protein.
Same deal with hunting. Although getting a hunting license can be harder in some states than others, if your state allows online safety training, you may be able to get field-certified and licensed without even leaving your house.
Then you’ll have the summer months to practice up with your weapon of choice, so you can potentially start bringing home the bacon come fall. Think about it: With meat shortages looming, hunting might be a good skill to have — especially if the coronavirus flares up again to shut things down next winter.
I can tell you first-hand: Most of the meat I’m eating right now is from wild game I took last fall. And I’ve got at least another two months’ worth of it sitting in my freezer.
That’s a good cushion to have when the meat department at the local grocery store looks like it was looted after some kind of riots.
Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder